On a rainy Friday, people in-the-know gathered to listen to poetry in Ugly Duck for the launch of Sophie Fenella’s debut poetry collection The Rich Nothing. Ugly Duck is actually a series of different event spaces, with this particular one being located at 47/49 Tanner Street in Bermondsey. Inside this old Victorian tannery (where leather skins are processed), therein lies ‘The Garage’. On the ground floor, the space is described as having ‘a grungy urban warehouse feel’, and without much natural light at the back, it has an underground vibe in more than one sense of the word. With genuine caution signs for wet floors from leaks, it feels like an abandoned building that has been turned into an exhibition space – but in a cool way.
The big pull for the exhibition were two from the feminist activist artists Guerrilla Girls pieces, one featuring a mass of gorilla-masked people and the other outlining a Code of Ethics for Art Museums. The content adopted a religious tone, repeating ‘thou shalt not…’ with a list of points in Roman numerals, with some clearly being tongue-in-cheek and others more difficult to decipher. Amongst the rest of the collection exhibited were mostly lesser established artists, bringing a fresh and dynamic energy to the space.
The poetry reading itself took place in the front room, where there was more natural light, against a backdrop of a blue and white sign reading ‘SAVE OUR NHS’, the paint stripped to also read ‘FOAD’, an acronym for ‘Fuck Off And Die’. This piece, by Joe Holbrook, sends a clear political message against privatisation, and sets the tone for the rest of the artwork: a radical tone, loudly claiming the viewers’ attention, from piles of bricks scattered around the floor with neon lights to look like spray painted graffiti reading ‘HAHA 66’, to large steel and aluminium legs stood like a snapshot of synchronised swimmers to taxidermy snakes.
As well as feminist artwork, there were also strong messages evoked from different pieces, such as Valerie Savchits’ Endangered Species. An ideal setting for a poetry reading, as much of the work combined text with images, and this piece was no exception. Reading ‘we are the most endangered species here’, the piece was poetic in itself, with one of the people with ‘I’ll be what you want me to be’ across their chest, and the other, holding an arrow – as if shot from cupid – with ‘just don’t miss me’. The poetry on the night was also powerful, blending political and personal stories on different themes, chosen by the audience, with Fenella’s opening poem coincidentally containing all the first three theme choices: childhood nostalgia, drugs, and solar eclipses.
powerful, blending political and personal stories on different themes, chosen by the audience
Published by Invisible Hand Press, Fenella’s debut signals a poet with a long future, and presents the world with an exciting new voice, rich with metaphor, easily digestible, yet keeping you hungering for more. Make sure to check out the Ugly Duck exhibits when in London to discover a secret part of the city, and buy Fenella’s pamphlet to uncover more poetic gems.
Featured image via Ugly Duck
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